NASA’s Orion capsule splashes to Earth after successful moon mission

12 Dec 2022

NASA's Orion capsule making splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. Image: NASA

The successful landing is another step in NASA’s mission to put people back on the moon’s surface by 2025.

NASA’s Orion capsule has splashed back down to Earth, completing the Artemis 1 mission’s voyage to the moon and back.

The spacecraft landed in the Pacific Ocean yesterday (11 December), 50 years to the day of the Apollo 17 moon landing.

During re-entry, the uncrewed capsule slowed from nearly 25,000mph to about 20mph with the assistance of several parachutes.

The successful landing is the next step in NASA’s plan to bring astronauts back to the moon by 2025 with the Artemis missions.

NASA administrator Bill Nelson said the mission marks a “major step forward in the Artemis generation of lunar exploration”.

“For years, thousands of individuals have poured themselves into this mission, which is inspiring the world to work together to reach untouched cosmic shores,” Nelson said. “Today is a huge win for NASA, the United States, our international partners and all of humanity.”

Orion is a reusable, solar-powered spacecraft, capable of carrying up to six astronauts to the moon. It was launched as part of the Artemis 1 mission, which took off last month after two scrubbed launch attempts.

The 25-day journey to the moon and back marked NASA’s first human-capable deep space mission in roughly half a century. Orion performed two lunar flybys during this mission, coming within 80 miles of the lunar surface.

While in the distant lunar orbit, Orion surpassed the record for distance travelled by a spacecraft designed to carry humans, which was previously set during NASA’s Apollo 13 mission.

Artemis 1 mission manager Mike Sarafin said the spacecraft “exceeded our expectations” in a deep space environment and demonstrated that it can withstand the “extreme conditions” of returning to Earth’s atmosphere.

NASA plans to conduct testing and analysis of the Orion capsule and its heat shield over the next few months.

The next Artemis mission is planned for 2024, which will see a crew of astronauts perform a flyby around the moon. Artemis 3, which is slated for 2025, is set to shake things up by adding a woman to the list of people to have ever walked on the moon.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic